Shaping Miami’s skyline

Arquitectonica’s Bernado Fort-Brescia discusses how his ubiquitous firm is making its mark on the city

Oct.October 01, 2014 07:00 AM
From left: Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Related's Icon Bay tower

From left: Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Related’s Icon Bay tower

It may be hard to find a firm more responsible for sculpting the Miami skyline than Arquitectonica, which has designed more than 40 private and public projects, including AmericanAirlines Arena, Icon Brickell, the Miami Children’s Museum and the Marquis condo tower — and quickened pulses in the late ’80s when Miami Vice featured the firm’s Atlantis in the opening credits.

There are at least a dozen more South Florida projects in the works, including David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium, Genting’s planned waterfront resort on the downtown site of the former Miami Herald building and the giant observation tower SkyRise Miami, which was approved by voters in August.

Architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia, 62, one of the firm’s founding principals, spoke with The Real Deal about his Miami legacy; his focus on Edgewater, where he is designing several projects; and the odds that Beckham will succeed in bringing Major League Soccer to South Florida.

What do you consider to be your signature project in Miami?

Each building stands for itself. There are some projects, however, that have marked moments in the public eye, like the Atlantis in 1986 with its sky court and its grid-like design that came to fame as a result of “Miami Vice.” Then come our current projects, like Regalia [in Sunny Isles Beach] and Paraiso Bay. Our firm recently completed the PortMiami infrastructure project alongside ArquitectonicaGEO – our firm’s landscape division. Brickell City Centre will also be a notable project due to its sheer scale.

The argument could be made that your firm shaped the Miami skyline. How do you think your work will be viewed in the context of the city’s history?

It is up to others to judge. And this will likely not be judged in our lifetime. Laurinda [Spear, a founding principal and Fort Brescia’s wife] and I just focus on our work day-to-day. In the end, we prefer to see our buildings as a body of work within the overall urban landscape.

Any architectural trends (or projects) that you are critical of in Miami right now?

Some neighborhoods in Miami are required to have an excessive number of parking spaces in buildings. In some cases, buildings are dominated by garages that one day will be obsolete. For example, we designed 500 Brickell. After it was built, we were left with 228 spaces that are not being used. It shows how Brickell has easy access to mass transit and people are using it. I fear that these garages will become white elephants.

What do you think of the world renowned architects, like Zaha Hadid and Herzog & de Meuron, putting their mark on Miami?

These world-renowned architects are helping the city become a better place. This is no different than our firm doing work in other continents. We want Miami to be a global city that includes architecture from around the world.

Which project in Miami are you most excited about that’s not your own?

I’m very excited about the National YoungArts Foundation restoring the Bacardi USA Complex on Biscayne Boulevard to its former glory. The Enrique Gutierrez-designed eight-story tower and Ignacio Carrera-Justiz’s Jewel Box are post modern architecture icons. They will energize Biscayne Boulevard and solidify the Omni arts and entertainment district.

Your firm is designing projects in Edgewater for the Related Group and Sakor Development. How do these projects differ?

Icon Bay [Related’s development] was our first project in Edgewater, consisting of a single tower partially suspended over a newly-created waterfront public park. [Related’s] Paraiso Bay, the second project we designed, is essentially a new neighborhood with a multiple towers, a waterfront park with townhouses facing it and a promenade featuring a restaurant by Michael Schwartz. The third project is Ion East Edgewater by Sakor. The residential tower, which faces north to south, rises behind a two-story retail pavilion along the entire block on [Biscayne] Boulevard.

How do you unwind from the daily grind?

I like to unwind by being with my family. We have six children, a foster child and two grandchildren. They keep us busy and happy.

Do you think David Beckham will ultimately be able to build a soccer stadium downtown?

I hope so. Miami needs soccer.


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